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For five years, actor Anson Mount inhabited the role of of Cullen Bohannon, an ex-Confederate Army solider helping to build the transcontinental railroad in AMC's Hell on Wheels. Then, last year, he made a leap to the future when he was cast in CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery as the charismatic Captain Christopher Pike, a gig he slipped into with remarkable ease that left Trek fans clamoring for more.
In the show's Season 2 finale, Mount's Captain Pike was left behind on the Enterprise along with co-stars Ethan Peck (Spock) and Rebecca Romijn (Number One), leaving the fate of the characters hanging as Michael Burnham leaps far into the future where the upcoming 2020 season will unfold.
Now that Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 has come out on Blu-ray and DVD, SYFY WIRE spoke with the Tennessee-born actor about his time on the ambitious sci-fi series, crafting his own Captain Pike, the latest Short Trek, "Ask Not," and that time Jonathan Frakes stole his lines.
You've made a huge technological leap from Hell on Wheels' horses and steam locomotives to Star Trek's faster-than-light starships. How did that jump feel?
It's strange, I pay a lot of attention to genre as a consumer but not really as an actor. One of the really cool things about Gene Roddenberry's vision for the show is that he always pictured it as an update of the westward expansion, the old wagon trains headed to Oregon. He wanted to do that but in space. Both genres are about the human drive to seek.
Looking back, how do you encapsulate your time on Star Trek: Discovery and how did it improve your craft as an actor?
I think my time on Star Trek was a dream come true. Being cast in Star Trek is not like being cast in anything else, it's like admittance to a club you never dreamed you'd belong to. Particularly as a captain. I mean, Star Trek was me and my friends' make-believe game when I was a kid. And now here I am actually doing it. It's just crazy. It's the longest that a job has remained surreal to me. I've worked with Robert De Niro, I've acted on the stage in Asia, I've shot guns from a helicopter. This is definitely the most surreal experience I've ever had as an actor.
How it helped me to develop as an actor? It's one thing to start a show as a regular and find the character as the writers find the show. It's another thing to come in and try to find the character when the writers have already figured out what the show is. It's kind of like being the new kid at school. It's daunting but I had a lot of help, a lot of very welcoming cast members and writers and crew. I guess I learned the importance of trusting the writers.
When composing your version of Captain Pike, how did you prepare for the role to make it your own?
I don't know of another character from Star Trek canon that is so revered but we know so little about. So there were a lot of different ways to go. The crutch I leaned on the hardest was what the writers were giving me, and making sure I was in direct and constant consultation with them, to understand the decision making behind every scene. In terms of the character, it wasn't just the lack of material.
The original Pike was a younger, more self-involved Pike. Then the later Pike that we know about is sort of at his end. You have the first act Pike and the third act Pike, you didn't have the second act Pike, and those are different human beings. They say that literally every cell in our body regenerates every seven years. So I didn't really feel constrained at all by what had come before, I just trusted that the writers would lead me down the correct path.
Is this the end of your Star Trek journey on Discovery or will there be more Pike in some form in the future?
Well, I come from a long line of Southern bullshitters, and I'm probably a better writer than I am an actor. I love really good bullshit. I love doing my research and specificity. I wish I could be bullshitting and tell you that I can't say anything or I don't know.
I've been to a couple of Star Trek events and people keep coming up and telling me that I don't have to say anything, to just wink or don't wink if I know something, or breathe, or don't breath if you know something is happening. The thing I keep having to disavow people of is the idea that actors know anything. We are always the last to learn anything. I've been a regular on shows in which the drivers get scripts before we do. We are barely useful idiots. [Laughs.]
To the fantasy of what you are suggesting, of course, I'd love to keep doing the character. There's a lot more to be explored. In canon, there are nine years left between where we are and the original Trek. It's a character that people have always revered and always want to know more about. The writers did an amazing job fleshing out the character for one season on Discovery.
I love sitting in the captain's chair. Please believe me, it's an amazing experience. It's almost as good as sitting in the saddle. But these decisions are made by people you and I have never met and probably will never meet. They're not reading literary quarterlies, they're looking at their spreadsheets. And more power to them, that's their job. In this space, you cannot have art without commerce, so we'll see.
Were you surprised at how fandom embraced your rendition of Christopher Pike and the uproar for your return?
It's really hard to explain to people who haven't done it, how your work is in such a vacuum in television when you're making it, and often times film. Your audience is your crew and you're doing it for them. You can have the best writers, the best directors, the best cast, and at the end of the day when you cut it together it's a roll of the dice. It can come up snake eyes or it can come up double sixes. You just don't know what you're going to get. My job is to show up on time with my lines learned and try to tell the truth. Every now and then you get lucky.
The response to this is unlike anything I've ever experienced. At times it's hard to differentiate between whether this is just built-in fandom or not. I take it with a grain of salt and feel very blessed to have been invited into this family and try not to let it go to my head. My wife helps me.
What was the biggest surprise or misconception you learned about the Star Trek universe through this process?
I guess it was sort of a surprise in retrospect. Hell on Wheels was [all days of filming outside], which I love because I like working outside. Star Trek was all days interior, for obvious reasons. We had to have a very controlled atmosphere to do a space opera, and that was really difficult. It's hard to go into a black box for twelve hours a day.
Then there's what Doug Jones likes to call the space gobbledygook. It's a little like doing a medical drama in that you're saying these things that are not in your day to day vernacular. How often are you called upon to say photon torpedo? Particularly when you don't know what it is, you have to decide in your imagination what these things are and how they're used in order for it to stick. Then repeat them over and over again until they're in your muscle memory.
What was it like working on the latest Short Trek, "Ask Not," with your co-actor Amrit Kaur?
I can only tell you one thing... that the brunt of the responsibility and the work for this short was placed upon the shoulders of a very young and very talented up-and-coming actress named Amrit Kaur. I think it turned out very well and that was solely because of her work. She's going to be somebody to watch. I was honored to work with her and get to know her.
You seem like a person who enjoys a good practical joke. Were there any favorite moments on the blooper reel in the new Star Trek: Discovery Blu-ray release?
It's so funny, you shoot for so long and then these things come out a year or more later and you don't remember a lot of them happened. But Jonathan Frakes, who I adore, still loves to be on the set, he doesn't go back to video village, he has this little portable monitor and he sits there right on set with us. And when we're having ship turbulence he loves to call it out, he wants to be that guy. Boom! Or Right! Or Left!
So we were doing a scene and calling out these cues and without thinking he accidentally called out my next line. [Laughs.] Everybody stopped and wondered what just happened. I said, "He just said my line because he's still a f***ing actor!" He told me about that clip when we were in Las Vegas back in August. We were sharing a car and he said, "Oh man, wait until you see the blooper reel. You've so got me!"